For German law firm Hölters & Elsing, maintaining its independence is at the heart of its strategy.
“We’ve had a number of flattering offers,” says name partner Siegfried Elsing, “but we feel quite comfortable as we are.”
As part of the core of Mittelstand (mid-sized, privately owned firms) in the German legal market, the firm believes it can best serve its clients and be true to itself through its independence. And in case potential suitors have not got the message, Elsing reiterates the point.
“There are two things that are really important to us,” he explains. “They are to be able to do cutting-edge and challenging projects and to work in a self-controlled environment. We like to make our own mistakes.”
This conservative attitude it typical of many Mittelstand law firms, but that is not to say that Hölters is a firm that likes to navel-gaze. As one of the top 40 firms in Germany, Hölters boasts a client list that includes many international companies, such as cosmetics firm Coty, as well as a good core of the German corporates and a collection of privately owned businesses that characterise the Mittelstand client base.
The firm has also spent time fostering relationships with a number of firms outside Germany, such as Covington & Burlington, Chadbourne & Parke and Gide Loyrette Nouel. But even these relationships are characterised as a ‘good’ rather than a ‘best’ friends network.
This cautious approach also exemplifies the firm’s views on expansion. Although many firms view Germany as a doorway to Central and Eastern European markets, Hölters has yet to capitalise on the economies, with Elsing admitting that much of the firm’s work is “Western-orientated”.
Hölters was founded in Düsseldorf in 1989 with a team of five lawyers. Since then, the firm has added offices in Berlin and Frankfurt with 41 lawyers, of which 16 are partners. Elsing defines the firm’s three main practice areas as M&A, commercial real estate and litigation and arbitration, but it does offer a full service that includes IP, insurance and employment.
Last year, Hölters lost six partners and a number of other lawyers, due partly to the firm’s remuneration system. This led to a rethink and, since the start of 2005, it has been based on a combined lockstep and merit system.
Firm: Hölters & Elsing
Managing partner: Siegfried Elsing
Turnover: €m (£13.7m)
Total number of partners: 16 (12 equity, four non-equity)
Total number of lawyers: 41
Main practice areas: M&A, commercial real estate and litigation, and arbitration
Key clients: Deutsche Post, Ergo Versicherungsgruppe, Haymarket
Number of offices: Three
Locations: Berlin, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt